The Altarpiece in Renaissance Venice


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Peter Humfrey


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The painting and carving of altarpieces was one of the most important and characteristic tasks of Italian Renaissance artists, yet the altarpiece as an artistic genre has been surprisingly neglected by art historians. This book—the first detailed study of the altarpiece in a major center of Renaissance art—focuses on Venice from 1450 to 1530. Peter Humfrey, an authority on Venetian painting, explores a wide range of issues surrounding altarpieces as an art form. These include the traditions of decoration of Venetian churches, the sacred and secular functions that altarpieces were expected to perform, the market for altarpieces, and the professional world of the Venetian artist. He discusses altarpieces by Bellini, Cima, the three Vivarini, and the young Titian, as well as by numerous other painters and sculptors of the period.

A central theme of the book is the relation between the altarpieces and their original physical and liturgical context. Throughout, Humfrey tries to reintegrate altarpieces with their intended settings, both for the sake of recapturing their full visual effect and as a basis for examining the ideological relationship between their subject matter and the altar table below. He also examines the complex mixture of motives, worldly as well as pious, that prompted fifteenth-century Venetians to spend large sums of money on commissioning altarpieces for the churches of their city. The first part of the book is thematic, dealing with the making, placement, and function of the altarpiece. The second part is a chronological discussion of specific works, focusing on the ways in which the artists met challenges posed by specific commissions. An appendix to the book gives further factual and bibliographical information about one hundred major Venetian altarpieces of the period.

Peter Humfrey is Reader in Art History at the University of St. Andrews.

"Humfrey's lavishly illustrated, richly textured investigation is the first comprehensive consideration of the painted and carved altarpieces produced in the city between 1450 and 1530. . . . Not only will this superb synthesis provide a firm foundation for future study, it should also serve as a methodological exemplar for the discipline."—Library Journal

"Rarely can a subject have been examined in such thoughtful detail as in The Altarpiece in Renaissance Venice."—Paul Hills, Apollo Magazine

"Very good and very authoritative. . . . It coordinates and focuses all the existing information on the subject, adds much that is new, and through its typological approach sharpens and alters one's appreciation of the artifacts, many of them great works of art, with which it deals. . . . A splendid and splendidly produced book."—John Steer, Antique and New Art

"The most comprehensive treatment of the altarpiece to date. It provides a wealth of information regarding the production, function, development, and major practitioners of the altarpiece in Venice. . . . The author's scrupulous attention to detail combined with an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject make this a study that will set the standard for all future work in the field. Lavishly illustrated with good color plates and numerous views of altarpieces in their settings."—Choice

"The first comprehensive study of the altarpiece in a single major center of Renaissance art. . . . In its wealth of detail and geographical focus, The Altarpiece in Renaissance Venice fruitfully complements the more general studies of the Italian Renaissance altarpiece published in recent years. Humfrey's book is a pioneering scholarly study of a timely subject."—Max Marmor, Art Documentation

"This volume fulfills a rare dual role as both reference book and survey. . . . as is appropriate to a survey, the text is smoothly written and even-handed. . . . As a work of reference on the Venetian altar-piece prior to the mature Titian, this will prove to be the standard one for many years to come."—David Franklin, Burlington Magazine

"Meticulously written and thoroughly documented, and which finally provides all the information one might need on the altarpiece in Renaissance Venice, thus providing an authoritative account that will be widely used by scholars of Venetian history and elsewhere. The number and quality of the illustrations is outstanding, and the whole book is beautifully designed."—Andrew Hopking, Sixteenth Century Journal

"This book, which ingeniously combines the thoroughness of a reference book with the liveliness of an introductory survey, supplies tables and indexes which enable us to compare this altarpiece with others featuring three saints and to find other representations of Saint Jerome. It is a major contribution to our understanding of Renaissance art, not only because of the admirable analysis and narrative which it contains but also because of the whole way of thinking in which it trains us and the mass of information which is compressed within it."—Nicholas Penny, London Review of Books

"Well-structured, concise and up-to-date. . . . [This book] is most readable, superbly illustrated in both black and white and good colour, with endnotes, biographies and an excellent bibliography for further study and closer examination of the arguments."—Crispin Robinson, The Art Book

"The Altarpiece in Renaissance Venice is not only a survey but an examination of the manifold issues that influenced the altarpiece in early Renaissance Venice. It will be indispensable for the study of any Venetian altar painting by specialist and student alike."—Patricia Meilman, Renaissance Quarterly

"Humfrey's book not only does the estimable job of providing a comprehensive picture of altarpiece production and reception in a major center of Italian Renaissance art, but it also clearly focuses scholarly attention on some of the vital issues raised by the history of this major artistic institution during a crucial phase of its development."—Alexander Nagel, Art Bulletin

Winner of an Art Libraries Society of North America's 1993 George Wittenborn Memorial Book Award
ISBN: 9780300053586
Publication Date: July 28, 1993
352 pages, 9 1/2 x 10 3/4
150 b/w + 120 color illus.
Lorenzo Lotto

Rediscovered Master of the Renaissance

David Brown, Peter Humfrey, and Mauro Lucco

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Vittore Carpaccio

Master Storyteller of Renaissance Venice

Peter Humfrey; With contributions by Andrea Bellieni, Linda

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